What We Should Not Be Thankful for This Thanksgiving
By John W. Whitehead
I will be the first to acknowledge that there is much to be thankful for about life in America, especially when compared to those beyond our borders whose daily lives are marked by war, hunger and disease. Despite our kvetching, grumbling and complaining, most Americans have it pretty good compared to less fortunates the world over.
Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that all of our so-called blessings will amount to little more than gilding on a cage if we don’t safeguard the freedoms on which this nation was founded. And if there is one freedom in particular need of protecting right now, it is the Fourth Amendment, which has been on life support for quite some time.
It used to be that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was considered the most critical of the amendments in the Bill of Rights. Since writing my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, however, I have come to believe that the Fourth Amendment, which demands that we be “secure” in our persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government and, consequently, stands as a bulwark against the police state, is, in fact, the most critical.
In the true spirit of Thanksgiving, then, here is a list of things about this emerging police state that I am not thankful for and will never remain silent about as long as the government remains the greatest threat to our freedoms.
Police shootings of unarmed citizens. No longer is it unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later. This trend originates from a police preoccupation with ensuring their own safety at all costs, with tragic consequences for the innocent civilians unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
SWAT team raids. On an average day in America, at least 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams (although I’ve seen estimates as high as 300 a day), which are increasingly used to deal with routine police matters: angry dogs, domestic disputes, search warrants, etc. Unfortunately, general incompetence (officers misread the address on the warrant), collateral damage (fatalities, property damage, etc.) and botched raids (officers barge into the wrong house or even the wrong building) tend to go hand in hand with this overuse of SWAT teams, with tragic consequences for the homeowner who mistakes a SWAT raid for a home invasion.
Arresting Americans for altogether legal activities such as picking their kids up from school, holding Bible studies at home, and selling goat cheese. Unfortunately, our government’s tendency towards militarization and overcriminalization, in which routine, everyday behaviors become targets of regulation and prohibition, have resulted in Americans getting arrested for making and selling unpasteurized goat cheese, cultivating certain types of orchids, feeding a whale, holding Bible studies in their homes, and picking their kids up from school.
Jailing Americans for profit. At one time, the American penal system operated under the idea that dangerous criminals needed to be put under lock and key in order to protect society. Today, as states attempt to save money by outsourcing prisons to private corporations, imprisoning Americans in private prisons run by mega-corporations has turned into a cash cow for big business. And how do you keep the prisons full? By passing laws aimed at increasing the prison population, including the imposition of life sentences on people who commit minor or nonviolent crimes such as siphoning gasoline.
Transforming the schools into quasi-prisons and teaching young people that they have no rights. Zero tolerance policies which criminalize childish behavior continue to destroy the lives of young people such as the 14-year-old arrested for texting in class and the 6-year-olds suspended for using their fingers as imaginary guns in a schoolyard game of cops and robbers.
Surveillance drones taking to the skies domestically. With at least 30,000 drones expected to occupy U.S. airspace by 2020, ushering in a $30 billion per year industry, police departments are already queuing up for their drones. Indeed, the drones coming to a neighborhood near you will be small, capable of flying through city streets and buildings almost undetected, while hovering over cityscapes and public events for long periods of time, providing a means of 24/7 surveillance.
TSA searches that accustom citizens to life in a police state. Under the direction of the Transportation Security Administration, American travelers have been subjected to all manner of searches ranging from whole-body scanners and enhanced patdowns at airports to bag searches in train stations and sports arenas. Mind you, this is the same agency that is now installing detention pods in airports, requiring passengers to submit to searches and screenings before they can exit the airport.
Illegal, invasive spying on Americans. There is no form of digital communication that the government cannot and does not monitor—phone calls, emails, text messages, tweets, Facebook posts, internet video chats, etc., are all accessible, trackable and downloadable by federal agents. In other words, there is nothing private from the government, which has used a variety of covert, unconstitutional tactics to gain access to Americans’ personal data, online purchases and banking, medical records, and online communications.
Thus, while there’s much to be thankful for—the blessings of family, security, food, opportunity, etc.—it’s the things I’mnot thankful for that have me greatly concerned about the emerging American police state. So do me a favor. Before you get distracted by the gathering of family and friends and the feasting and the football and the fleeting sense of goodwill and the traditional counting of blessings, take a moment to remind yourself and those around you of the things we should NOT be thankful for this year—the things that no American should tolerate from its government—the things that don’t belong in the “city on a hill” envisioned by John F. Kennedy as the standard for a government “constructed and inhabited by men aware of their grave trust and their great responsibilities.”
Mind you, if we do not push back against the growing menace of the police state now, future Thanksgivings may find us giving thanks for creature comforts that serve only to lessen the pain of having lost our most basic freedoms.